The new way to bridge talent gaps and support lifelong learning

With ‘skill currency’, it’s time for adult learners to prepare for the future of work through a revolutionary approach to learning.

This article is brought to you by the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT).

With a vibrant ICT ecosystem and regional digital connectivity, Singapore has built a reputation over the years as a growing technology hub. Home to both global and regional technology companies from Google to Grab, the nation has been lauded for its capabilities in infrastructure, digitization and talent. In fact, Singapore ranked fourth in the IMD World Digital Competitiveness 2022 Ranking, which measures how well prepared countries are to adopt new digital technologies into government practices, after Denmark, the United States and Sweden.

However, the global problem of talent attraction and retention remains pervasive in the post-pandemic world. Specifically in the ICT sector, Singapore faces a talent gap of 19,000, particularly in positions such as software engineering and development. As one tech leader pointed out, “Singapore is home to 80 of the world’s top 100 tech companies and over 3,800 tech-enabled startups, but one of the country’s biggest challenges is a talent shortage.”

Overall, Singapore needs 1.2 million additional digital workers by 2025 to remain competitive, according to a report commissioned by Amazon Web Services.

There is a clear need to nurture a strong pipeline of local talent, including recent graduates and mid-career professionals, while ensuring our existing workforce remains relevant and competitive in this rapidly changing digital economy.

What are our best ways to address this problem?

First, there is an urgent need to equip Singaporeans with the necessary skills to be competitive on the global front. At national level, the focus is on re-skilling and up-skilling up to half a million adult learners per year as part of workforce transformation. However, experts know that Singapore has always believed in a three-pronged approach – and for this to come together it is crucial that value chain partners such as the Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) contribute to this national effort.

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Pioneering this response is the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), which is developing a new competency-based stackable micro-credential (CSM) pathway in collaboration with three industry partners (namely NCS, Singtel, Singapore Computer Society). and three polytechnics (namely, Nanyang Polytechnic, Singapore Polytechnic, and Temasek Polytechnic).

Pioneering a new approach to learning: Micro-Credentials

This new CSM pathway is SIT’s response to the government-wide call for workforce transformation, while addressing the needs and profile of Singapore’s learners, which typically include working adults striving to balance work and life.

As Education Minister Chan Chun Sing (Picture above, standing, middle) stressed when officiating the launch of the CSM path: “It is exhausting for adult learners to retrain and upskill themselves. You have many competing priorities – family commitments, financial commitments, time pressures, and other commitments in life.

“The question is not whether adult learners should upskill or reskill, but how can they do so at a comfortable pace? And how can we enable them to do this quickly and at scale?”

Recognizing this need, the path has been developed to equip these learners with new skills while retaining full-time employment.

Here’s how the CSM path works:

  • Each micro-credential is earned through a short program of study and/or work-based learning, culminating in demonstrated mastery of competencies in a specific area. These are organized into skill blocks covering skills required by industry.
  • A typical micro-credential takes about four months to complete. Such a learning method supports lifelong learning and encourages adult learners to start a short just-in-time education.
  • Learners can sign up for individual micro-credentials based on their work needs. Since it is also stackable, those pursuing university education can stack multiple micro-credentials and complete a final project to meet the requirements of a SIT degree.
  • The micro-credentials are delivered primarily through a combination of asynchronous and synchronous online learning, supplemented by physical face-to-face sessions for hands-on and laboratory experiments – maximizing flexibility for learners to balance their studies, work, family and other commitments bring to.

This CSM path is the first of its kind to be offered through such a collaboration. It will be made available from the 2023/2024 academic year through the existing SIT Bachelor of Science with Honors in Applied Computing degree program with an initial cohort of approximately 150 learners from partner organizations and may be expanded to other degree programs in the future.

The promise of micro-credentials

Just a few years ago and even today, some employers tend to focus their time and attention on candidates with college or graduate degrees. However, as we move forward, there is a greater need to help our employees demonstrate their ability in terms of specific skills and not just academic qualifications.

Beyond the first diploma or degree, the more progressive employers will encourage workers to acquire competency-based micro-credentials.

With the competency-based approach, learners not only acquire the knowledge and skills of a field, but also acquire the competency to apply them at work. This assures both learners and employers of the applicability and relevance of their newly acquired knowledge and skills to their work.

The competency-based approach also facilitates the recognition of a learner’s formal and informal prior learning such as work experience, portfolios and industry certifications. In this way, learners have the opportunity to receive a digestible education without compromising on quality.

This underscores the importance of “skills currency” in the modern career portfolio – where it is now critical for employees to stay current with the latest skills to take on larger roles in their companies or embrace new technologies. It’s no longer just about years of experience or qualifications.

As reiterated by Minister Chan, qualifying currency must take precedence. In line with this need, full diploma or diploma qualifications, while still relevant, increasingly need to be complemented by ‘just-in-time’ upgrade modules that can fill specific skills gaps in companies.

To meet the challenges of articulating demand for new skills, everyone – including individuals, companies, trade associations, unions and government – must work together to explore the horizon and engage in regular dialogues to identify these new skills.

Cover Photo / SIT Photo: Keng Photography/Tan Eng Keng

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